Scion xB vs Nissan Cube vs Kia Soul
Calling a car boxy used to be a negative. But then along came the minivan, the SUV, and that changed. After all, the box-even on wheels-is the most efficient package. But starting with the Scion xB, boxy also became urban cool. And since carmakers know a trend when they see one, there are now two new edgy contenders-the Kia Soul and Nissan cube. So let's see which box does street geometry best.
Cubic front-wheel drive city cars have become a common sight in metropolitan areas. And, while the new Nissan cube and Kia Soul are slowly adding to the mix, the original shoe-box on wheels-the Scion xB-remains the most common street hauler. Even in its second generation, the xB's right-angle shape, flat panels, and pouty face still turns heads. Funky interior styling is another key to the xB's appeal, headlined by four round center gauges. The xB's cabin is very roomy, almost lounge-like in feel. There's enough space for three young adults to sit comfortably in the rear. Folding the 60/40 rear seat makes way for a huge 69.9 cubic feet of cargo behind a rear hatch.
Under the hood is the Camry's 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, the largest engine of our trio, with 158 horsepower. With the optional 4-speed automatic, this box pulls from 0 to 60 in 8.9 seconds, also the group's fastest. However, that big engine does produce underwhelming Government Fuel Economy Ratings of 22 city/28 highway. We saw 26.1 in varied driving. Like each of our group, the xB's simple suspension uses struts up front and a solid torsion beam in the rear. Ride is quiet and pot holes are soaked up with refinement. Turning diameter is a small 34.8 feet curb-to-curb. That aids the xB when parking, but its 167.3-inch length, the longest of our group, can be an issue in really tight situations. Also, this cult classic has a base sticker of $16,420-the trio's highest.
Our second cube is the Nissan cube. More cartoony than the xB, the cube has curvier lines, puffy wheel flares, and asymmetrical rear glass. Like the xB, the passenger cabin of the cube is deceivingly large. Artful details like the rippled ceiling design, and shaggy dash rug, give it a whimsical feel. The wide 60/40 rear seat slides, reclines, and folds for an adequate 58.1 cubic feet of space. Cargo loading is by way of a curb-side opening rear-door. We prefer a hatch, but city-dwellers living with a low-roof garage will love it.
Under the hood is the Versa's 1.8-liter inline-4, producing 122 horsepower. With optional CVT automatic, straight-line zero took 60 takes 9.4 seconds. There's good spunk here and the cube feels faster than the numbers say. But the cube shines brightest in tight traffic and parking settings. With light touch electric steering, its 156.7-inch length and 33.4 foot turning diameter are both the smallest of our trio.
In normal traffic, the cube's ride is fine, though not as pot-hole friendly as the xB. Being our tallest box, it had the most trouble with highway crosswinds. Our cube CVT has Government Fuel Economy Ratings of 28 city/30 highway, but we beat that with a fine 31.1 mpg in mixed driving. Pricing for the Nissan cube begins at $14,710. With a low-end stereo that's about $1500 less than the xB.
Our third cubic solution is the Kia Soul. At 161.6 inches, it slides between the xB and cube. The Soul is the most soulful of our trio in design. Angular lines, fast-moving creases, and an athletic stance give this urban cruiser a true sporty appeal. The Soul's interior also shows a more techno-flair than rivals. Case in point: the light pulsating speakers. Fit, finish, and materials are also a notch above xB and cube. The wide 60/40 rear seat has the most legroom of our group, slightly more than the xB. But, with the seats down, its 53.4-cubic-feet cargo capacity is the group's smallest. Rear access is by hatch.
There are two 4-cylinder power sources for the Soul; a 122-horsepower 1.6-liter or a 142 horsepower 2.0 liter. Our Soul Sport's 2.0, with optional 4-speed automatic, took 9.9 seconds from 0 to 60, the slowest in our head-to-head runs. The Soul has fine city-style ride and handling. The turning diameter is also tidy at 34.3 feet. But on open roads, the Soul is easily the most fun-to-drive. However, road noise rises faster than speed.
Government Fuel Economy ratings are 24 city/30 highway for our 2.0-liter. Soul's test loop was a disappointing 25.0 miles per gallon. But the Soul is the thriftiest to buy in our cubic comparison. Base sticker starts at just $13,995.
So there you have it. Three boxes that are well-suited for today's urbanites. But one-the Nissan cube-with the shortest length, super-tight turning diameter, and rear cargo door, shines brightest as the purest city car. Plus, it delivered the trio's best fuel economy by far. The Kia Soul, however, is our favorite box to drive in city and out. Its funky, techie design delivers fine practicality, and it's the least expensive to buy. But fuel economy was low.
The original box, Scion xB, is a good compromise between the Soul and cube. It takes up the most pavement, but is tops in power, passenger and cargo space. Plus, it had better fuel economy than the Soul.
So, if you're in the market for a sensible city car, make sure you test drive all three. One of them will surely win you over, but none will disappoint.
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
0-60 mph: 8.9 seconds
EPA : 22 mpg city/ 28 mpg highway
Mixed Loop: 26.1 mpg
Engine: 1.8-liter inline-4
0-60 mph: 9.4 seconds
EPA: 28 mpg city/ 30 mpg highway
MIxed Loop: 31.1 mpg
Engine: 2.0 liter
0-60 mph: 9.9 seconds
EPA: 24 mpg city/ 30 mpg highway
Mixed Loop: 25.0 mpg